Trouble on the horizon or a passing storm? Fishermen prepare for the choppy waters of a no-deal Brexit

  • Video report and words by ITV News correspondent Rupert Evelyn

“The French will always be the ones to cause the biggest amount of trouble,” says ‘Crystal Sea’ skipper David Stevens.

His family have been trawling for generations and he’s prepared for any wave that hits on January 1st.

So will it be a new post-Brexit dawn at sea for fishing?

Seemingly relaxed about the future he accepts there is trouble on the horizon but predicts a passing storm.

We are five hours out of Newlyn in Cornwall, the nets are cast and conversation turns to the weeks ahead.

“It was said that fishing would be the litmus test of how far we've come out of the EU. I think that is true,” says David.

Fisheries remain one of the key sticking points and as both sides sit down for another week of talks neither has so far been willing, openly at least, to compromise.

Many, like David, see only gains for UK fishing with “no-deal” being a long way from a disastrous outcome.

Within sight of a passing French trawler David is also clear that the EU fleet will have a place in UK waters.

“There's always going to be an element of sharing your waters and sharing the stock to live in those waters," he said. "But it's all about the management. And we want to be able to control the management in our waters, they can control the management of their waters, that's fine.”

A no-deal Brexit may not be disastrous for the UK fishing industry, trawlers say. Credit: PA

Two of the four crew are Latvian. Andris saw his livelihood disappear when Latvia joined the EU in 2004.

His work dried-up as the Latvian fleet cast off from Russia with the larger EU nations consuming their stocks. He’s lived through change before and is willing to stomach upheaval again taking a philosophical approach to a short term issue: “maybe we’ll get more fish, more money, we’ll see”.

Perhaps a sign of optimism in the future of the industry, the Crystal Sea is a new trawler. The Stevens family invested heavily with an expectation of financial return.

David is sympathetic to the financial challenges he believes his European colleagues will face but, he said: “I know what it is like when the UK went through it.

"We had mass decommissioning right through the '90s and early 2000s... That was really, really hard and they're going to have to go through a very similar sort of process.

"But they've had it very good for 40 years. They've now got to rebalance their fleet.”

So far they’re heartened here in Cornwall by what they hear from the the UK’s Chief Brexit negotiator David Frost.

Taking a tough line with the EU by refusing to give way on Fishing is what they hoped for.

“I can't see the EU are going to move because they're in denial thinking the UK are still under the control of the EU," says Paul Trebilcock from Cornish Fish Producers' Organisation.

"So the way I feel, hear it, read it, see it, is that the UK is very firm on its position now. And it's not going to move any further.”

But, whether it’s the French blockading ports or Britain selling fishing short (again), there is still an underlying nervousness that at this late hour when everything still seems positive there will be an unwanted catch.